Durable assets through rural employment: Rubber Board ties up with MGNREGA

rubber-boardNEW DELHI: The state-run Rubber Board is turning to the rural employment guarantee programme to increase India’s natural rubber output from the present 9 million tonne a year.

With rising global demand for rubber, the board is keen to extend the area under cultivation. It has identified 400,000 hectare in the North East, 100,000 hectare in Odisha and 50,000 hectare each in Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh as areas with potential for natural rubber cultivation.

The area under rubber cultivation in India stands at 7 lakh hectare.

The board, which operates rubber plantation development and rubber development schemes in North East, is facing shortage of funds and labour. To address these issues, the commerce ministry has reached out to the rural development ministry to work out a plan to use rural employment scheme for expansion of rubber cultivation.

The initial six to seven years in a rubber plantation are labour intensive—roughly 1,500 man-days are required to raise 1 hectare rubber plantation. Most of this work is unskilled; making the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme an option.

“Convergence between the board’s schemes and the rural employment programme is a practical and workable option as their objectives are similar,” said a senior official involved in preparing the guidelines. “Both programmes seek to create durable assets and employment generation for vulnerable people in rural areas, particularly socially disadvantaged communities, improve land productivity and water conservation, and put barren and cultivable waste land to productive use.”

The convergence scheme will operate at two levels. Persons eligible under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to work on private land or homestead will manage the plantation, thus creating permanent sources of livelihood. At another level, workers who do not meet this criteria, will work in these plantations.

The board will identify the land suitable for rubber cultivation and prepare the list of beneficiaries under MGNREGA, who are eligible to work on private land. The village panchayat will be given this list, and the eligible beneficiaries interested in the scheme will form a self help group or rubber production society board to carry out the work of the plantation. Additionally, MGNREGA workers who are not eligible to work on private lands will be able to take up the specific tasks like clearing, planting and fertiliser application. This will be managed by the village panchayat as part of its work under the rural employment scheme.

The convergence programme will create a shelf of productive works for the programme as well as help beneficiaries move up the livelihood chain through managing the plantation and other value addition efforts that the board sponsors.

Only those who have job cards will be employed for the unskilled tasks. The beneficiaries of the plantation scheme must also be a job card holder and work as an unskilled worker on the plantation.

MGNREGA will bear the cost of wages for the unskilled labour, and some of the semi-skilled labour and material components, accounting for 52% of costs for developing a hectare of rubber. Rough estimates of the costs to be borne by the rural employment scheme works out to Rs 171,540 per hectare in Kerala and Rs 187,822 in Assam. The activities related to developing the rubber plantation will be financed by the board.

This is the most recent effort by rural development minister Jairam Ramesh to recast the rural employment programme from a ditch digging scheme to one where community assets are built. The first such move was the convergence with the Anganwadi Scheme, under which MGNREGA workers worked on construction of mother and child care centres. More recently, a scheme has been developed with railways for including unskilled railway works in the MGNREGA work portfolio.

The pilot rubber plantation projects will be undertaken in the current fiscal year in Kerala and Assam, and then replicated in other states. The guidelines for the scheme were finalised last week.(Source:ET)

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